“Peacemaking is a marathon,” said Lebanese peace activist May El-Khalil. Who would have thought football could be a tool for peace? In what follows, we will examine the post-conflict impact of football in Sierra Leone in order to determine the extent of its influence. This will prompt us to consider how sport can be an unexpectedly effective tool in the peacemaking process. However, we must first gain a deeper understanding of the Sierra Leone Civil War.
The Sierra Leone Civil War was a ten-year conflict that began in 1991 and ended in 2002 in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Various rebel groups fought against the Sierra Leonean government and its allies during the conflict. Foday Sankoh led the Revolutionary United Front (RUF): the principal rebel group. Both sides committed numerous atrocities against civilians during the course of the war. Amnesty International stated regarding the war: “Sierra Leone’s civil war was one of the bloodiest armed conflicts of the late 20th century. More than a million people were forced to flee their homes, and tens of thousands were killed in the most sadistic ways imaginable. In addition to destroying an already fragile economy, the war set back Sierra Leone’s social and political development by many years.” Additionally, the war led to the widespread use of child soldiers. In 2002, a peace agreement was signed between the RUF and the Sierra Leonean government, bringing an end to the conflict. This was followed by a peacekeeping mission led by the United Nations, which helped stabilize the country and made it possible to hold democratic elections in 2002. The end of the war was followed by the DDR.
DDR, or Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, is the process of demobilizing and reintegrating former combatants back into society. DDR is frequently used in conjunction with social reconstruction efforts to promote peace and stability in post-conflict periods. In Africa, football has a unique and powerful appeal. Due to its popularity and ability to organize individuals and communities, football has played a crucial role in the post-conflict social integration of Sierra Leone’s youth. The presence of ex-combatants in the social reintegration camp caused a great deal of tension, but this sport provided profitable activities for them.
The DDR camp administrators were required to return these children to a civilian mindset because they possessed military-minded intellects and ideas. Soccer was an effective method for altering their perspectives as normal citizens. However, football is not a magical tool for assisting social reintegration, and it must be viewed as part of a larger strategy that also includes school, vocational training, and language instruction. By promoting broadly cooperative settings and including child and adolescent warriors from multiple battle factions, sport added a useful element to DDR that few other group activities could match.
Former child soldiers’ post-conflict social reintegration can be significantly aided by their participation in sports. Particularly, football can assist in altering their perspectives and fostering cooperation between various factions. Despite the fact that it is not a panacea, this sport was a useful tool in the larger process of rebuilding Sierra Leone after years of civil war, though it was obviously insufficient on its own. Peacebuilding is always a marathon, and we must be in it for the long haul.